Category: UK Travel

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

For my post on the first ten new UNESCO World Heritage sites, click here.

11. Taputapuātea, center of the “Polynesian Triangle”, French Polynesia

The Marae, or burial site of Taputapuatea in French Polynesia - one of the new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The marae of Taputapuātea.

Taputapuātea on Ra’iatea Island is part of the Polynesian Triangle – the last part of the globe to be settled by humans. The property includes two forested valleys, a portion of lagoon and coral reef and a strip of open ocean. At the heart of the property is the Taputapuātea marae complex – a political, ceremonial and funerary center. The site has a paved courtyard with a large standing stone at its center. Widespread in Polynesia, the marae were places of learning where priests and navigators from all over the Pacific would gather to offer sacrifices to the gods and share their knowledge of the genealogical origins of the universe, and of deep-ocean navigation. Taputapuātea is an exceptional testimony to 1,000 years of mā’ohi civilization.

12. Tarnowskie Góry, lead-silver-zinc mine, Poland

The mines of Tarnowskie Góry and the underground water system there - are one of the new UNESCO World a Heritage sites.
Today, you can tour the mines of Tarnowskie Góry.

Southern Poland contains one of the main mining areas of central Europe.  The site at
Tarnowskie Góry includes the entire underground mine with adits, shafts, galleries and even a water management system. According to UNESCO, Tarnowskie Góry represents a significant contribution to the global production of lead and zinc.

According to legend, in 1490 a local peasant-farmer named Rybka found a strange, heavy, metallic stone while plowing the field near village of Tarnowice. He presented his find to a local priest; within three decades the town became the largest silver mining center in the area. Its population rivaled in size some of the major cities of the Renaissance world. Prospectors were coming from all corners of the continent, some as far as Spain. They were spurred on by the massive amount and quality of ore, so high that on many occasions it was said to be practically pure, metallic silver. Silver, lead and zinc were bountiful in these grounds and the evidence of an early metal production dates back to at least 3rd century AD. Sadly, in the beginning of the 20th century, the source of the silver ore dried out and the mining stopped completely.

13. Sambor Prei Kuk temple zone, Cambodia

The temples of Sambor Prei Kurt, Cambodia are one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A temple in Sambor Prei Kuk

Sambor Prei Kuk is a Khmer name meaning “the temple in the richness of the forest.” The archaeological site has been identified as Ishanapura, capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished there in the late 6th/early 7th centuries. The vestiges of the city cover an area of over 15 square miles and include a walled city center as well as numerous temples. Ten of the temples are octagonal, unique specimens of their kind in southeast Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site include lintels, pediments and colonnades – they are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

 

14. English Lake District, United Kingdom

The Lake District in England is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Located in northwest England, the English Lake District is a mountainous area whose valleys have been modeled by glaciers in the Ice Age. From the 18th century onwards, the Picturesque and Romantic movements celebrated this area in paintings, drawings and words. It also inspired an awareness of the importance of beautiful landscapes and triggered early efforts to preserve them. Interestingly, only one of the lakes in the Lake District is called by that name, Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others – such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere – are meres, tarns and waters.

15. Valongo Wharf, archeological site, Brazil

The Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.
The Valongo Wharf, now surrounded by the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site encompasses the entirety of Jornal do Comércio Square in the center of Rio. It was the landing site and center of trading of African slaves from 1811 until the banning of the transatlantic slave trade in 1831. An estimated 900,000 Africans arrived in South America via Valongo.

16. Venetian Works of Defense, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro

The Venetian defense work of the 15th-17th centuries are one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Aerial view of the Venetian defense system in Palmanova, Italy.

This property consists of 15 components of defense works in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, spanning more than 600 miles between the Lombard region of Italy and the eastern Adriatic Coast. The fortifications throughout Venice and its mainland territories protected the Republic of Venice from other European powers to the northwest. Those of Venice’s overseas territories protected the sea routes and ports in the Adriatic Sea to the Levant. They were necessary to support the expansion and authority of Venice. The introduction of gunpowder led to significant shifts in military techniques and architecture. These changes are reflected in the design of alla moderna bastioned fortifications, which spread throughout Europe.

17. ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, South Africa

The Khomari Cultural Landscape of Botswana and South Africa is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage site.
Bushmen in the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located at the border between Botswana and Namibia. The area contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present. They developed specific knowledge, cultural practices and worldview related to the geographical features of their environment. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region over thousands of years. In fact, a set of tools almost identical to that used by the present-day inhabitants of the area was discovered at Border Cave in 2012. Those tools dated to 44,000 BC!

18. Landscapes of Dauria, Mongolia, Russia

Dauria Landscape, an area in Russia and Mongolia, is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Daurian hedgehog.

Shared between Mongolia and the Russian Federation, Dauria is a sea of grass that forms the best and most intact example of an undisturbed steppe ecosystem. Because of the climate’s distinct wet and dry periods, Dauria contains a wide diversity of species. The steppes serve as habitats for rare species of animals, such as the White-Naped crane and the Great bustard, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds. It is also a critical site on the migration path for the Mongolian gazelle.

The region has given its name to various animal species including Daurian hedgehog, and the following birds: Asian brown flycatcher (Muscicapa daurica), Daurian jackdaw, Daurian partridge, Daurian redstart, Daurian starling, Daurian shrike and the red-rumped swallow (Hirundo daurica).

19. Los Alerces National Park, Argentina

Los Alerces National Park in Argentina is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.

Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andes Mountains of northern Patagonia. The park is vital for the protection of some of the last portions of continuous Patagonian Forest. A number of endemic and threatened species of flora and fauna make the park their home. The park was created in 1937 in order to protect the alerce forest, and other plants of the Patagonian Andes. The National Park has the largest alerce forest of Argentina. The slow growing alerce is one of the longest-living trees in the world; some in the park are around 3,000 years old, with many of them over 1,000 years.

20. Qinghai Hoh Xil, China

Qinghai Hoh Xil in China is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Qinghai Hoh Xil is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year round. Despite the harsh climate, Hoh Xil is home to more than 230 species of wild animals, 20 of which are under Chinese state protection.  Protected species include the wild yak, wild donkey, white-lip deer, brown bear and the endangered Tibetan antelope, or chiru. The abundant plateau pika, a small burrowing rodent, is the main food of the region’s brown bears; the bears also feed on the yak and antelope.

21. Historic city of Ahmedabad, India

The historic walled city of India is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage site.
Entrance to Bhadra Fort in Ahmedabad

The walled city of Ahmedabad, founded in 1411 by Sultan Ahmad Shah presents a rich architectural heritage from the sultanate period. This is nowhere more evident than in the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the city, and numerous mosques and tombs. The city consists of densely-packed traditional houses in gated streets with features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions. The city continued to flourish as the capital of the State of Gujarat for six centuries, up to the present.

8 Amazing Airbnb Homes

8 Amazing Airbnb Homes

Airbnb’s Most Amazing Homes

Sometimes picking a place to stay when we travel is as much fun as planning where to go and what to see.  There are some truly amazing homes available on Airbnb that you can rent.  They’re so good, they’ll make you want to book the place to stay and then plan your trip around its location, instead of vice versa!

1. The Seashell House – Isla Mujeres, Mexico

airbnb most amazing homes

This home in a gated community on Isla Mujeres seems like it was made from two giant shells.  In fact, shells dominate the decor inside the house as well. The plumbing fixtures are also shells, pouring out water into the sink and shower.

airbnb most amazing homes

Shells are also built into the walls both inside and outside the house, and the property features a stunning view of the water. Isla Mujeres is a small island off the Yucatan Peninsula, and the closest airport is Cancun. The property includes a private pool, two king beds, kitchenette, wifi, and air conditioning. The rental fee for the Seashell House is from $308 per night, and it sleeps a maximum of four people in two bedrooms. The property has received 131 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

2. Underground Hygge – Orondo, WA

airbnb most amazing homes

This Hobbit-inspired home is nestled right into the mountainside of the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge. The doorway and windows are round, providing renters with an amazing view of the surrounding countryside.

airbnb most amazing homes

The house is outfitted with many natural elements – the floor appears to be made of log slices, the fireplace and chimney are made of stone, the sink basin is made of well-preserved natural wood. It isn’t hard to imagine a peaceful little hobbit living here. Staying here does require a bit of a hike uphill to reach the property from the parking area, and I really wouldn’t recommend staying here if you’re claustrophobic at all. (The largest room is 7 ft 10 inches by 11 feet. Also, if booking in winter, you will need a vehicle with four wheel drive, as they do get a lot of snow December – March.  The property is available to rent from $250 per night, and it sleeps two. The property has received 185 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

3. Skylodge – Calca, Peru

airbnb most amazing homes

For those who want their lodging to provide them with an unforgettable experience, there are the Skylodge Adventure Suites in Peru’s Cusco region.  We actually saw these from our train to Machu Picchu in May.  They are “transparent luxury capsules” that are attached to a mountainside in the Sacred Valley of Peru. This may be the only hotel that you have to climb a mountain (1300+ feet) to enter. I’m a little unclear about how the booking works. It appears as though you make a reservation for one person, but they say that maximum occupancy for the three pods is 12 people. Rates are from $462 per night, which includes a gourmet dinner with wine, transportation from Cuzco, professional bilingual guides, and breakfast in the morning. There is a strict cancellation policy, so be sure you are going to stay there before you book. The property has received 53 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 stars. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

4. The Cozy Palace Bamileke Suite – Marrakesh, Morocco

amazing airbnb homes morocco cozy palace

This gorgeous little place just oozes romance, with colorful tiles, arching doorways, and a four poster bed. It is a suite in a riad – a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard.

amazing airbnb homes cozy palace morocco

A skylight fills the bedroom with natural light, and the courtyard is the perfect place to relax.  Guests also have access to a rooftop terrace which provides excellent views.  The suite accommodates up to four people, and rents from just $42 per night!  The property has received 401 reviews with a 5-star average rating. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

5. Old Smock Windmill – Kent, England

How many people can say that they’ve slept in a windmill?  You can, if you rent this renovated windmill in the English county of Kent.

amazing airbnb homes old smock windmill kent england uk

You will have three floors at your disposal.  Each is furnished with modern conveniences while retaining the rustic look of a bygone era.

amazing airbnb homes old sock windmill kent england uk

Notable features and furnishings include a copper basin sink, walk in shower with under floor heating, gas wood-burning stove, and a patio/deck.  The rental fee for the Old Smock windmill is from $235 per night. Sleeps a maximum of four people in two bedrooms. The property has 154 reviews, with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to view its Airbnb listing.

6.  San Giusto Abbey Tower – Tuscania, Italy

amazing airbnb homes san giusto abbey tower italy

Built in 1146, San Giusto is a medieval monastery located in a beautiful valley one hour north of Rome. The tower has been recently restored and decorated, taking into consideration the beauty and austerity of a 12th century building: medieval charm and modern comfort. 

amazing airbnb homes san giusto italy

As you can see above, the decor is very much in keeping with the building’s age and purpose. If you are looking for a luxurious, spa-like environment, this will not be what you want. On the other hand, if you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, you will probably enjoy this.  The apartment has 4 floors: living room and kitchen, 2 bedrooms (each with a bathroom) on the upper floors and a terrace that overlooks the valley. The tower rents from $184 per night and can accommodate up to four guests. The property has 64 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to view its Airbnb listing.

7.  Jack Sparrow House – Cornwall, England

amazing airbnb homes jack sparrow cornwall england uk

If quirky and cozy is your thing, you will love this little house! (Have I mentioned that I think Cornwall is the most beautiful place on earth?  Why, yes, I have.) It consists of a comfortable room with a seating/kitchen area downstairs and a romantic bed on the second floor with beautiful views of Porthallow Bay.  

amazing airbnb homes jack sparrow house cornwall england uk
The cabin has been lovingly constructed with careful attention to detail. There is a toilet in the house, but shower facilities are located nearby in a converted horse trailer. The Jack Sparrow house rents from $134 per night and, needless to say, it can only accommodate two people. This property has 138 reviews with an average rating of five stars. Click here to view its Airbnb listing.

8. St Pancras Clock Tower – London, England

amazing airbnb homes st pancras clock tower london england uk

There’s a new place on my bucket list!  There are two Airbnb apartments located inside the clock tower above St Pancras International Station in London. It features a 30 ft high room in the tower overlooking many of London’s landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral.

amazing airbnb homes st pancras clock tower london uk

Not only is sleeping inside a clock tower a really cool experience, but the location of this clock tower is exceptionally convenient for visitors to London.  From there, you can walk to many of London’s sights, including the British Library, the British Museum, and the West End. The tower does not have bells, and road/rail noise is minimal; however, you should be aware that the windows are not curtained and light will stream in from sun and/or floodlights. The apartments accommodate up to four people and rent from $147 per night.  The property has received 341 reviews, with an average rating of five stars. Click here to view its listing.

If you haven’t tried Airbnb before, what are you waiting for?  This is just a small sampling of the unique and cozy homes available on their site.  Click here, and you’ll get $40 off your first Airbnb stay!

Buckingham Palace Opens New Exhibit of Royal Gifts

Buckingham Palace Opens New Exhibit of Royal Gifts

It’s Good to Be the Queen

During its summer opening (July 22 to October 1), the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace will hold an exhibit of over 250 items given to Queen Elizabeth II.

It is customary when heads of state from different countries meet for them to exchange gifts as a symbol of diplomacy. Because Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for over 65 years, she has received quite a few of these royal gifts. This exhibit highlights some of the more spectacular items she has received from over 100 different countries. The gifts are special not only because of their beauty and rarity, but in many cases they are also special because of who presented them to the queen. Many of the gifts were from notable world leaders (past and present), including US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, South African President Nelson Mandela, and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China.

Here are some of the items that will be highlighted at the exhibit:

Vessel of Friendship (China)

buckingham palace exhibit royal gifts vessel of friendship china

This is a model of the treasure ship in which navigator and diplomat Zeng He sailed in the early 15th century. The prow of the ship features a dove and olive branch medallion, representing peace. The sides of the hull contain elements from Dunhuang frescoes, as well as traditional Chinese symbols of friendship and peace.

Yoruba Throne (Nigeria)

yoruba throne beaded chair nigeria buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit

The Yoruba people of Nigeria presented this throne to the Queen in 1956. Embroidering the beading and creating patterns for beadwork chairs and footstools is an important spiritual exercise for the Yoruba people. The designs denote many aspects of spiritual life – power, the past, the future and respect for ancestors and descendants. Beadwork and royalty were closely associated in this culture, so owning vast quantities of beads was considered a source of wealth and status. The wealthiest Yoruba kings employed craftspeople to embroider their clothing and other objects. These ornately-decorated pieces, in turn, became an important part of their regalia.

Totem Pole (Canada)

buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit canada totem pole

Another hand-crafted item, the First Nations of Canada’s north-west coast carved this totem pole. It features the mythical thunderbird at the top, with its wings outstretched. The aboriginal people of Canada believed that the bird brings thunder by flapping its wings.

Salt (Salt Island, British Virgin Islands)

buckingham palace royal gifts

Salt Island, part of the British Virgin Islands, used to pay tribute of a pound of salt every year on the monarch’s birthday. Over time, as salt became less valuable and more easily attained, the custom ceased. The Governor-General of the British Virgin Islands reintroduced this tradition in 2015, presenting this bag of salt for The Queen’s 90th Birthday. The bag features a scene of an islander collecting salt.

Coconut Baskets (Tonga)

buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit coconut baskets tonga

Queen Salote of Tonga presented these baskets to Queen Elizabeth II during her Commonwealth visit in 1953.  The baskets represent an industry that Queen Salote had re-established on the island of Tonga. Queen Salote endeared herself to the British public during Elizabeth II’s Coronation.  Leaving the Coronation service at Westminster Abbey in the rain, she insisted on riding in an open carriage, and rode back to Buckingham Palace waving to the crowds.

UPDATE: The exhibition is now closed.

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

Do you ever feel as though a vacation on the Italian Riviera is just an impossible dream? Well, if you live in the UK, the experience may be a lot easier than you think. Just go to Portmeirion, the Italian Riviera village located in Wales.

Portmeirion wales
The village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis designed and built the village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales, between 1925 and 1975.  He was an architect and environmentalist who wanted to create a functional and attractive private village.  His purpose: to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful place could be developed without spoiling it. As a result, Portmeirion has the perfect combination of natural beauty and stunning architecture.

At Portmeirion, Williams-Ellis paid tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. While he repeatedly denied claims that Portmeirion was based on the Italian Riviera town of Portofino, he also said, “How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site.”

Portmeirion wales portofino italy comparison

The Village

At first glace, the village of Portmeirion seems larger than it really is. This effect is achieved by architectural designs that include arches, slopes and varying window sizes. Strolling through the area, you can admire the statues and other whimsical details that fill every nook with interest.

portmeirion wales battery square
Battery Square, Portmeirion

Battery Square contains guest accommodations, an aromatherapy spa and a café with outdoor tables on the cobbles – a great spot to grab a coffee, Mediterranean-style.

The  Hotel Portmeirion is the hub of the village’s quayside.

portmeirion hotel wales
Hotel Portmeirion, Quayside

In June 1981, fire gutted the hotel. It took nearly seven years to restore the hotel to its former glory.  Fortunately, however, the work was so well done that it received a Good Hotel Guide award for “Brilliant restoration of a great hotel.”  In the past, the Hotel has hosted notable people such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, and Noël Coward.

Nearby

Outside the main village but within the Portmeirion estate, there is a striking mansion known as Castell Deudraeth.

portmeirion castell deudraeth
Castell Deudraeth

The mansion has a stone façade, tall crenellations and Gothic flourishes.  But don’t let its exterior fool you.  Inside, you will find a hotel with 11 modernized guest rooms and suites.

So, if you fancy a taste of the Italian Riviera without actually going to Italy, maybe you should consider Portmeirion. Admission for a day visit costs £10-12.  Alternatively, you could stay overnight in the Hotel Portmeirion, Castell Deudraeth, or numerous self-catering cottages within the village.

For more information:

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

It’s All in the Details

Ever since my childhood, I’ve been a little fascinated with dollhouses. There is something magical about seeing a slice of everyday life shrunk down into miniature. And the more details there are, the more magical it becomes. Here are five amazing dollhouses from around the world that are on my bucket list to see, plus one I’ve already seen.

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The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brothers Studio London

The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brothers Studio London

First, a Confession:

I have waited over three months to write a post about The Making of Harry Potter. I hoped that giving it some time would subdue my zealous enthusiasm and help me not come across as a total geek.

Alas, it did not.

I took almost 200 photos there, and when I looked through them to decide which ones I would include in this post, I could only narrow it down to thirty. I will try my hardest to cut out more as I am writing. But it will be painful.

Suffice it to say that if you have ever watched a Harry Potter movie, there is only one thing that should be at the top of your list for London attractions: The Making of Harry Potter at the Warner Brother Studios in Leavesden.

Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

According to the web site (link at the end), the tour is supposed to take about three hours. However, I strongly recommend allowing almost an entire day for it. Three hours is probably the bare minimum time, and does not include transportation to/from the studio tour. (Details on transportation are also at the end of this post.)

When you enter The Making of Harry Potter building, you are in a large lobby area, with giant photos of the cast members staring down at you. Alan Rickman’s Snape is there. It made me a little melancholy to see him as I’ve been a fan even of his for decades. He really knew how to create memorable characters! A few props are there as well, including the flying Ford Anglia that Ron and Harry borrowed in The Chamber of Secrets. From the lobby you proceed to the queuing area and enter a maze of barrier straps, winding back and forth. While there, you get to see the famous cupboard under the stairs from Number 4, Privet Drive.

Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour Cupboard Under the Stairs

Once you reach the front of the line, you are ushered into a large, mostly dark and very empty room, where you watch a video presentation. It really isn’t very long but you feel like it is because you just want to get to Hogwarts, already! After the video, you move into a great stone room that looks like the outside of a castle. Pause for dramatic effect, then the doors open and you are ushered into…

Great Hall Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

…the Great Hall at Hogwarts!

The long tables are set and they seem to stretch on forever. Mannequins behind the tables wear the characters’ costumes. And of course, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore is at the head of the hall, flanked by Professors McGonagal and Snape.

Between the tables and the platform on which the professors would stand is, of course, the Sorting Hat, ready to announce the Hogwarts house for every new student.

Sorting Hat Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

At this point on The Making of Harry Potter tour, I’m enjoying myself and pretty wowed by everything that I’m seeing, but starting to have a bit of anxiety creep up on me because it’s a little too structured. I don’t like being led about like a dog on a leash – I want to explore and set my own pace. Luckily, it turned out that I had no need to feel even the slightest bit anxious. Our guide opened a second set of doors from the Great Hall and we walked out into the remainder of our studio tour, where we were free to explore as much or as little as we wanted to.

At that point, I went from a dog on a leash to a rat on crack – pinging from exhibit to exhibit and rushing around in circles because I wanted to see everything all at once. I didn’t have time to read the signs, darn it!  I had stuff to see!

Eventually I found a happy medium and was able to calm down. Good thing, too, because there are details that you don’t want to miss in this tour.

Most of the things that I zinged past so quickly were technical exhibits – how they actually made certain items in the film work. Floating candles in the great hall, for instance. (To be honest, I missed a lot of this. I wish I had taken the time to pay more attention, because I’m sure it was really interesting.) Once I had started to breathe again, I found the exhibit on wardrobe distressing pretty fascinating. You’d be surprised how much work goes into making a smudge of dirt appear on an actor’s jacket!

There was a beautiful display from the Yule Ball scene in Goblet of Fire:

Yule Ball Costumes Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
Harry and Cho Chang’s outfits in front; Hermione’s and Viktor Krum’s in back.

Moving on, we made it to the Gryffindor rooms. First the common room:

Gryffindor Common Room Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

and then the boys’ dormitory. Here’s Ron’s bunk:

Gryffindor Boys Dorm Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

There were so many items that had great significance in the plot of the seven Harry Potter books and movies, and seeing each one was a thrill.

Film Props Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
TOP:  The Mirror of Erised and Godric Gryffindor’s Sword.
BOTTOM: Harry’s Invisibility Cloak, Dumbledore’s Pensieve, and the Tri-Wizard Cup

(See what I did there?  Five photos in one!  Pretty clever, eh?)

We got to see lots of the settings from the movies, which felt so real, I wanted to sit and stay for a while. Here is Dumbledore’s office, which had many items from the books/movies – the pensieve, the sword of Godric Gryffindor, the paintings of former headmasters, and so many books! (Fun Fact:  It turns out the books lining the shelves of our favorite Headmaster’s office are telephone directories that were altered to look like antique volumes!)

Dumbledore Office Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

And there was Snape’s Potions classroom. Melancholia struck again when I saw the figure representing the late, great, Alan Rickman.

Snape Potions Classroom Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

There were plenty great details in the potions classroom. First, the apparatus used to make Felix Felicis:

Felix Felicis Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

and a few copies of Advanced Potion Making here and there.

Potions Classroom Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

They also had self-stirring cauldrons, but that doesn’t translate well into a still photograph.

One set that gave me absolute joy was The Burrow, home to the poor-in-money-but-rich-in-love Weasley family.

The Burrow Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London
You can’t tell in the photo, but the knife in the foreground was chopping the carrot by itself.

At The Burrow, Molly’s knitting needles were clicking and clacking away whilst knitting a blanket, and there was the famous clock that showed which family members were home and which were in mortal peril.

Weasley Home Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

There are so many more exhibits I could write about and show you, but I have to draw a line somewhere. There were Professor Umbrage’s proclamations, floo powder sets, the Ministry of Magic statue, Tom Riddle’s grave, Hagrid’s Hut, the Leaky Cauldron, the Chamber of Secrets door, Mad-Eye Moody’s trunk, Lupin’s trunk, the Clock from Azkaban, the Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley, and so much more!

Oh, okay, one more photo before I move on. Remember the Deatheaters meeting at Malfoy Manor in Deathly Hallows Part 1?

Malfoy Manor Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

Outward and Onward

When you finally tear yourself away from the exhibits and head out, you find yourself at a food court with a couple of different options for meals and snacks. My daughter and I could not resist the soft-serve butterbeer ice cream, which was so creamy and sweet!

Butterbeer Ice Cream Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

After leaving the food court area, you head outside and see some of the exterior sets. For instance, the Dursley residence, AKA number 4, Privet Drive.

4 Privet Drive Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

Where Technology & Magic Meet

From there, you head into the second leg of the tour, bringing you back to the technical aspects of how the movie was made. Learning how they filmed Hagrid was especially interesting. Apparently not all of the scenes with Hagrid are actually Robbie Coltrane. They had an insanely realistic looking animatronic head that they used as his double:

Hagrid Head Making of Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour London

This portion of the tour also included Dobby, the Gringott’s goblin, Buckbeak, Aragog, Fawkes, and more.

The grand finale to the tour is just amazing. I won’t tell you what it is, but suffice it to say that it is – no pun intended – absolutely magical.

As thrilling as it is to read about these things and these places in a book, and to see them on the big screen, it is even more so to stand in the midst of it all and feel like you’re actually there. If you’ve ever read a Harry Potter book or seen a movie, The Making of Harry Potter deserves a top spot on your bucket list.

The Warner Brothers Studio Tour’s address is Studio Tour Drive in Leavesden, WD25 7LR. Telephone 0345 084 0900. To get there, take a train from London to Watford Junction. Outside the Watford Junction station, you can get a shuttle bus that runs to the studio. The studio has hours that vary from day to day; consult the schedule when planning your visit. 

Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

Flamborough Head, Yorkshire

On our recent trip to England, I had a list of lesser attractions for us to see. They weren’t big enough to drive out of our way for, but they were interesting or scenic enough to add into our itinerary if we found ourselves with a little bit of extra time and happened to be in the area.

Flamborough Head was one such place.  I had seen pictures of white cliffs and a big lighthouse and thought, “Well, that will be a nice place to take a few pictures.”  I had no idea there was so much history attached to it.  As a result, I was pretty pleased that we had gone to check it out.

flamborough head old lighthouse chalk tower

We passed this chalk tower as we approached the Flamborough Head lighthouse.  Sir John Clayton built the tower in 1669 with the permission of King Charles II. It stands over 78 feet tall and would have had a coal or brushwood fire burning at the top. However, most historians agree that it was never actually lit. Perhaps the voluntary dues from passing sailors were insufficient to provide funding for it. The chalk tower is most likely the oldest surviving lighthouse in England.

When we arrived at the current lighthouse, Hubs took a moment to read the signs, and we got a little insight into the historical significance of the site:

In the middle of the American Revolution, on September 23, 1779, the Battle of Flamborough Head took place. The battle was a conflict between an American Navy squadron led by none other than John Paul Jones on the Bonhomme Richard, and two British escort vessels, the HMS Serapis and the Countess of Scarborough, which were protecting a large merchant convoy.

Battle of Flamborough Head

Jones’ initiated the conflict by engaging the Serapis in a violent gun battle. It seemed that a British victory would be inevitable because the Serapis was more heavily armed.

At one point in the battle, John Paul Jones’ ship collided with the Serapis, rendering both ships temporarily immobile. The British captain, a man by the name of Pearson, taunted Jones by asking if his ship had struck.  (This was a play on the word strike, which is also the term for lowering a ship’s flag as a sign of surrender – “striking the colors.”)

John Paul Jones’ response?  The famous quote, “I have not yet begun to fight!”

In the end, Jones claimed the victory, although he lost his ship in the process. Countless expeditions have looked for the wreckage of the Bonhomme Richard but none have met with success to date.

Samuel Wyatt, a noted architect, designed the current lighthouse at Flamborough Head.  Built in 1806, it held an oil lamp, which rotated by means of a clockwork motor.  The light was reportedly visible for 20 miles.  In 1925 authorities raised the lighthouse to its current height of 85 feet, which puts it 250 feet above the waves.

Flamborough Head Lighthouse

In addition to the impressive lighthouse, the view there was really beautiful.  Water lapped at the edges of the white cliffs and the North Sea stretched out in front of us as far as we could see.  It was the kind of place that you want to just stand and take it all in. So if you’re in the area and have a half hour or so to spare, stop by to soak up the history and the salt air.

Flamborough Head Cliffs

You can reach the Flamborough Head Lighthouse by way of Lighthouse Road (B1259) in Flamborough, Yorkshire, postcode YO15 1AR.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations Around the World

New Year’s Eve Celebrations Around the World

Peru – What They Wear

When I was preparing for my trip to Peru, I read that they have some pretty unusual New Year’s Eve traditions.  For starters, they wear yellow underwear (yellow is the color of good luck).  Peruvians wear these yellow undergarments inside out until midnight, then changed to the right way once the new year begins.  Other Latin American countries have similar traditions focused on wearing new, brightly colored underwear.

New Year's Eve Lucky Underwear Tradition in Peru
Suerte is the Spanish word for luck.

Other Peruvian New Year’s Eve traditions (and believe me, there are plenty!) include eating 12 grapes under the table, running around the block with an empty suitcase (to assure good luck in traveling), placing a coin in each shoe (to bring wealth), throwing a coin over your shoulder to get rid of the previous year’s poverty, and many more.  There are literally dozens of unusual traditions/superstitions for this holiday in Peru, which got me wondering what people do in other countries to celebrate.

The Philippines – What They Eat

In the Philippines, bringing in the new year is a noisy affair. In addition to a celebration with fireworks, people in the Philippines thump pots or pans repeatedly and blow car horns in order to drive away any evil spirits. The goal is to make as much noise as possible. But that’s not the only tradition. There is also “Media Noche,” a night of feasting and drinking with family members on New Year’s Eve.  The feast contains no chicken or fish because those foods symbolize famine.  Twelve round fruits (usually serving as the table’s centerpiece) are eaten at this feast.  Other dishes include sticky rice to strengthen the family bond and pancit (long noodles) to bring good health and long life.

Philippine New Year's Eve feast traditional celebration
A typical media noche feast

Sweden – What They Recite

Swedes view the beginning of a new year as a magical time, when people try to foresee the future. One way of telling your future was to pour molten lead in water and then interpret the shapes that were produced. Another was to toss shoes. If your shoe landed with the toe pointing towards the door, it meant you would move away or even die during the year.  Another tradition states that one should not to carry anything out of the house, as this signifies discarding happiness for the rest of the year.

Just before midnight, Swedes  at the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm recite the following poem written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more,
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out thy mournful rhymes,
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Turkey – What They Buy

Turkey holds a special lottery on New Year’s Eve, so buying lottery tickets is an annual tradition for many. In addition, many people will sprinkle salt on the doorstep at midnight to bring peace and abundance to their home or business.

Denmark – What They Watch

In Denmark, New Year’s Eve festivities are kicked off by a short speech from the queen – a tradition that has been in place since 1880.  Once Her Majesty has concluded her remarks, a meal with an entree of boiled cod is served.  For desert, there is a towering stack of marzipan rings known as kransekage.

After the meal, Danes may watch an 18-minute film called “Dinner for One.” The sketch presents the 90th birthday of upper-class Englishwoman Miss Sophie, who hosts a celebration dinner every year for her friends Mr Pomeroy, Mr Winterbottom, Sir Toby and Admiral von Schneider. The problem is that Miss Sophie has outlived all of her friends, so her equally aged butler James makes his way around the table, impersonating each of the guests in turn.

The crucial exchange during every course is:

James: The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie: The same procedure as every year, James!

By the end of the dinner, James is severely inebriated, having consumed 16 glasses of wine. Miss Sophie, who has herself had four rounds of wine, still appears sober; she tells the very drunk James that she wishes to retire to bed. Hand in hand, they head to the staircase and recite the closing lines of dialogue:

James: By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?
Miss Sophie (delightedly): The same procedure as every year, James!
James (slyly): Well, I’ll do my very best!
dinner-for-one denmark New Year's Eve traditional program
A scene from “Dinner for One”

Japan – What They Hang Up

In Japan, there is no shortage of New Year’s traditions.  As the calendar turns from one year to the next, they laugh in an effort to ward off evil spirits.  Buddhist temple bells are rung 108 times to keep away evil forces.  The traditional Japanese New Year dinner menu features boiled seaweed, mashed sweet potato with chestnut, fish cakes, sweetened black soybeans, and simmered burdock root. Shimenawa are lengths of rice straw rope normally used for ritual purification in the Shinto religion. At New Year’s these shimenawa are hung at the entrances of Japanese homes.  They ward off evil spirits and indicate the sacred areas where gods descend.

Shimenawa Japan New Year's Eve Tradition Celebration
Shimenawa

Germany – What They Say

You won’t hear anyone in Germany say, “Happy New Year,” but rather “Guten Rutsch”to wish everyone a good slide into the new year.  Likewise, December 31 is not known as New Year’s Eve.  In Germany it is Silvester, the saint’s day for Pope Silvester, who died on that date in 335 AD.  On a superstitious note, having laundry hanging on the clothesline at the start of the new year supposedly brings bad luck.  Like their Danish neighbors, the Germans are also fond of pouring molten lead into cold water and watching Dinner for One on New Year’s Eve.

Panama & Ecuador – What They Burn

In many Latin American countries, such as Panama and Ecuador, effigies of politicians, pop culture figures, and other icons of the year are burned as part of a New Year’s Eve bonfire.  The effigies represent the old year and burning them is meant to drive off evil spirits for a fresh start to the new year.

New Year's Eve effigy bonfire ecuador panama latin america tradition
A bonfire made of effigies.

Belarus – What They Feed the Roosters

In Belarus, the New Year’s Eve traditions seem to focus on marrying off the single ladies. In one, a pile of corn is placed before each woman, and a rooster is set before them. Whichever pile of corn the rooster approaches first reveals who will be the first to marry. In another game, a married woman hides certain items around her house for her unmarried friends to find.  The woman who finds bread will marry a rich man, while the one who finds a ring will marry a handsome man.

These are just a few of the countries with New Year’s Eve traditions, superstitions, and celebrations different from our own. I think it could be interesting to travel for New Year’s.  After all, celebrating the holiday in a different country could inspire you to start new traditions of your own here at home!

How to Maximize Your Savings on Rail Travel… and Possibly Even Travel for Free

How to Maximize Your Savings on Rail Travel… and Possibly Even Travel for Free

On our recent trip to the UK, we had a bit of a rail travel nightmare. We were leaving Northern England (Newcastle) to head back to London. The trip was to last about three hours, roughly 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM.

All went smoothly until we arrived at York, when the operator announced that the train line was closed due to a herd of cattle on the tracks near Peterborough. We were advised to disembark and catch a different train to Manchester, from whence we could take yet another train to London. Since the train to Manchester was essentially carrying two trains’ worth of passengers, many of us rode standing up, packed in the cars like sardines. It was not fun.

Further problems (and delays) ensued when the driver of the Manchester-to-London train fell ill. Long story short, we arrived in London around 5:00, a full four hours later than we planned.

During the Manchester-to-London ride, the operator made an announcement that because there was a significant (i.e., more than 30 minutes) delay, we would be eligible to receive a refund for our rail travel. I honestly didn’t think much about it because, ugh!, paperwork is not something I care to bother with when I’m on vacation. But once we got home, I looked into it.

Delay Repay in the UK

Sure enough, Virgin Trains (the company we booked with) has a “Delay Repay” policy. If your train runs 30-59 minutes late, you could receive a 50% refund. If your delay is 60 minutes or more, you can receive a full refund for your rail travel. And depending on how you booked, you might even get it automatically!

I was skeptical, though, because the train I ended up arriving in London on was a different carrier than the one I had originally booked. In fact, each of the three trains we took to get to London was with a different carrier. I wasn’t sure who to apply for the refund with, so I applied with Virgin Trains East Coast (our originating train in Newcastle) and Virgin Trains (the one that actually got us to London… finally).

Within a week Virgin Trains contacted me to say that they were denying my refund request because of inadequate documentation. Well, that’s it, I figured, no refund for me. Imagine my surprise when nearly two months later I found this in my mail from Virgin Trains East Coast:

img_2639

A refund check for the full amount we paid for that journey! Now, granted, it is going to take a small eternity for it to clear the bank due to currency conversion, but it’s still close to $70 that I wouldn’t have received if I hadn’t tried.

And it turns out Virgin is not alone.  Other rail travel operators have generous compensation policies for delayed passengers as well. I was lucky in that the train operator advised us we would be eligible for a delay, but if he had not, I would have had no clue. It pays to be aware of your rights as a passenger. Thus the purpose of this post. 🙂

In addition to Virgin Trains and Virgin Trains East Coast, other UK rail companies operating with a Delay Repay policy are

  • CrossCountry
  • East Midlands Trains
  • Greater Anglia
  • Great Northern
  • Southeastern
  • Southern
  • Thameslink, and
  • TransPennine Express

Elsewhere in Europe

Within the EU, there are refund policies in place for rail travel as well.  If your arrival at your destination is canceled or delayed by an hour or more, you are entitled to the following compensation:

  • full and immediate refund upon cancellation of the journey
  • return journey to your original departure point if the delay prevents you from completing the purpose of the trip
  • transportation to your destination, including alternative means of transportation if the rail line is closed
  • meals and refreshments proportionate to your waiting time
  • accommodations if you must stay overnight as a result of the delay

If you decide to continue your journey as planned or to accept alternative transport to your destination, you may receive compensation of:

  • 25% of the ticket fare, if the train is between 1 and 2 hours late.
  • 50% of the fare, if the train is more than 2 hours late.

And, finally, if your luggage is lost or damaged on a rail journey within the EU, you have a right to compensation, unless it was “inadequately packed, unfit for transport or had a special nature.”

  • Up to € 1300 per piece of registered luggage – if you can prove the value of its contents.
  • € 330 per piece if you can’t prove the value.

Remember, forewarned is forearmed. Knowing your rights as a rail travel passenger will prepare you for any scenario!

 

Beamish, Part 6: The 1900s Town – Shops

Beamish, Part 6: The 1900s Town – Shops

Part of a series of reviews on the open air living history museum in County Durham, UK. Other posts in this series are:

1 – a review of the 1940s Home Farm
2 – a review of the 1900s Pit Village 
3 – a review of the Colliery (Coal Mine)
4 – a review of Ravensworth Terrace, the residential section of the 1990s Town
5 – a review of the print shop in the 1900s Town

My favorite aspect of visiting a new place, other than photographing it, is shopping there.  I don’t mean just souvenir shopping.  I think visiting the stores in a new area gives you a special kind of insight into what daily life is like there.  Happily, the folks at Beamish agree with me on this point, so they have set up many opportunities for shopping.

A large section of the 1900s town is occupied by retail establishments.  As you might expect, they are just as authentically detailed as the rest of Beamish. For starters, there is an authentic bakery, where you can purchase Edwardian era treats.  We each got a different cookie/pastry and agreed that they were delicious.  The bakery also had a huge contraption called a “Super Human Kneader” for making bread. It would have been a newfangled piece of equipment back in the day.  Also, the bakery oven was electric – a new practice that was gaining popularity because of the ability to control the temperature.

beamish-1900s-town-bakery

The Beamish Motor & Cycle Works is the town garage.  The motor industry was still in its infancy during the early 1900s, so garages in that period typically combined the skills of a blacksmith, wheelwright, and coachbuilder.  As a result, only one person in 232 owned a car in 1913.

The showroom at the Beamish garage contains well-preserved examples of what would have been new and second hand cars, motorcycles, and bicycles.  I took a picture of this penny farthing for Hubs, since he loves bicycling:

Beamish 1900s town penny farthing bicycle garage

It seems like it wouldn’t be very comfortable, doesn’t it?

Behind the showroom, we found a workshop area filled with vintage automotive items.  My grandfather owned a service station when I was a kid and I grew up seeing a slightly more modern version of this, so I really enjoyed seeing this room.

Beamish 1900s town garage

beamish 1900s town garage

Next to the garage was the local co-op, which was akin to what we might have called a general store back in the day.  It was a store that catered to every household need from cradle to grave, sorted into three departments:  grocery, drapery, and hardware.

The grocery carried many foods in bulk and sold them by weight.  For non-bulk items, color-coded packets helped customers who could not read.  Sugar, for instance, was sold in a blue bag to make the white sugar seem brighter.  Butter came in barrels and was molded into portions using wooden pats.  Fresh foods were displayed on a slab of marble to help them stay cool.  And, of course, many items lined the shelves of the Co-Op.

Beamish 1900s town Co-Op Grocery store

The hardware department sold the household goods for indoor and outdoor use – everything from lighting, heating, cooking utensils, sports equipment, and cleaning supplies. The miners in this time period provided their own tools, and the co-op was where they bought whatever they needed.

beamish-1900s-town-co-op-hardware-store

There was also a sweet shop by the name of Jubilee Confectioners. Visitors can visit the factory in the back of the shop to see period candy-making techniques and machinery.

Beamish 1900s town candy store confectioner

Beamish probably has the best collection of sweet rollers – used to produce candies in a variety of shapes – in the country.  Some well known candies and their shapes include:

  • Pineapple Chunks – cube shaped
  • Black Bullets – bullet-like shape, hence the name
  • Blacks and Rasps – berry-shaped
  • Fish in the Sea – fish-shaped.

Beamish 1900s town candy molds sweet rollers confectioners

 

A Lesson in British Coins

Naturally, in areas where people live, work and shop, there also will be a bank.  Beamish’s 1900s town is no exception.  This is where a kind and very patient gentleman took the time to explain Britain’s former monetary system to me.  Honestly, it was baffling.  Up until 1971, when the country adopted a decimal system (1 pound = 100 pence), they used a very different system.  Brace yourselves, because I’m going to attempt to explain it.  But first, a picture of the Beamish Bank:

beamish 1900s town bank

Prior to decimalization in 1971 Britain used a system of pounds, shillings and pence (‘£sd’ or ‘LSD’).  These L-S-D abbreviations came about because of the Roman influence in ancient Britain. A pound is represented by a stylized L because the standard Roman weight was called a libra.  Likewise, pennies were represented by a D, not P, because it stood for Denarius, a Roman coin.  The S for shilling actually stood for another Roman coin, the Soldius.

The smallest unit of currency was a penny, the plural of which was pence (or pennies). There were 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings in a pound.  As a result, that makes 240 pence in a pound.  But to further complicate matters, pennies also came in fractions:

1 farthing (the lowest value coin) = 1/4 penny.  Production of farthings ended after 1960 due to inflation.
A ha’penny (half penny) = 1/2 penny.  Production of ha’pennies ceased after 1969.

Multiple pence were called & coined as follows:

Threepence or Thruppenny Bit = 3 pence (pronounced “thruppence”)
Sixpence (also called a ‘tanner‘) = 6 pence
1 shilling = 12 pence (1s)

Like pennies, shillings were also called & coined in multiples:

1 florin (a beautiful silver coin) = 2 shillings
1 half-crown = 2 1/2 shillings.  Production of half-crowns ended in 1970.
1 crown = 5 shillings = 1/4 pound

The pound came in the form of a paper bill, called a note, or a gold coin, called a sovereign.

The Royal Mint stopped producing farthings after 1956 and withdrew them from circulation in 1960 due to inflation. In preparation for decimalization, they withdrew the ha’penny from circulation in 1969, followed by the half-crown the year after.

Made from copper, a penny could also be referred to as a copper.

Made of gold from the Guinea coast of Africa, a guinea (first issued on February 6th, 1663) equalled 21 shillings (or one pound and 1 shilling) in old British money. A guinea was widely considered to be a more gentlemanly amount than £1. A gentleman paid his tailor in shillings, but his barrister in guineas.

So to sum up, here is what would have been equal to a pound in the various types of coins:

960 farthings
480 ha’pennies
240 pence
80 threepence
40 sixpence
20 shillings
10 florins
8 half-crowns
4 crowns
1 sovereign

It seems like I would have needed a cheat sheet just to conduct simple transactions!  Thank goodness the only mental math I had to do was estimate how many dollars were equal to a pound!

Beamish is located at postcode DH9 0RG in County Durham, England.  Telephone 0191 370 4000. The museum opens daily at 10:00 AM except on holidays.  Beamish recently received a £10.9 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add a 1950s section, which should be open by 2021.